Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Vist to Poilane in Paris

For most people travelling to Paris, France the itinerary would include all the iconic sites of Paris; the Eiffel Tower, a walk along the Seine, the Louvre, Notre-Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, a stroll along the Champs Elysees, and the many quaint Parigienne cafes, among others, but for me my trip would not have been complete without a visit to Poilane, the ever so famous panettiere.  The window display promised a delicious array of breads to choose from and window shopping the works of art they call bread would have been enough for some.

Those lovely boules that I'd seen many times in books and magazines with the famous P marking were right in front of me not to mention the incredible work of art of grapes and leaves on the boules next to them. I didn't buy one of the boules because they were so large and there was no suitable place to store so much bread at the hotel. Instead I bought smaller buns that the staff assured me was the same recipe and that would sate my craving for a taste of their wonderful bread.
The staff could see my enthusiasm and were only to willing to answer any questions I had for them.  As a matter of fact one woman who did not speak English very well went to the back to retrieve a baker with a better command of the English language. So much for all those stories you hear about how rude and aloof the French could be.  The people here were just lovely and accommodating as was the case with most of the people I encountered on my travels throughout Paris and the south of France.  In one bakery in the south after seeing my enthusiasm about bread baking the owner invited me and a friend to his small kitchen at the back of the store to show us where he made his bread and happily showed me a large pail of preferment in his refrigerator that would make the next day's batch.  He removed the lid so that we could smell the most beautiful dough and said "the dough does not smell strong, that is how is should be".  I would have gladly showed up the next day to work baking bread with him had he invited me.

I left with a selection of freshly baked breads that I would share with the group of friends I was traveling with.  I had come to Paris eager to visit Poilane and  the quaint shop and the wonderfully friendly staff there made the experience unforgettable.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Cranberry Nut Rolls

I'm afraid I haven't been a very good blogger for the last few months and I felt that perhaps it was high time I posted something and hopefully connect with some of my blogger friends. 

I suppose that another reason I haven't blogged lately is because I've taken a hiatis from bread baking.  I guess I was busy with other things and I figured it wouldn't be a bad thing to give my body a break from all that gluten that I love so much, and that is not to say that I've cut out bread altogether, because I haven't, but when I was baking bread on an almost daily basis you can just imagine how much of it I ate.

Anyway I made these a while ago and if I remember well they were quite good. They are chock full of cranberries and have a nice crunch from the walnuts and I would be quite happy to have these for breakfast anytime.  I found this recipe on Epicurious by Peter Reinhart.  I won't post the recipe here as it is very easy to find on the Epicurious site.  With Easter just around the corner these would make a nice addition to the breakfast table and I suspect they will go fast.

I hope you give them a try because I know you will not be disappointed.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pane di Noci - Walnut Bread

After running some errands, Randy and I decided that we would go out for pizza instead of going home to cook dinner. We wanted to try the newly opened pizza place on St. Clair Avenue with a rather interesting name of Pizza e Pazzi.  The direct translation to this is not Crazy for Pizza or Nuts for Pizza but Pizza and Crazies. Wow I thought, only the Italians with their romantic language can get away with a name like that. I imagined opening up a pizza joint and calling it Pizzas and Crazies and laughed thinking that no one would set foot in the place, yet Pizza e Pazzi constantly has lineups out the door.

Even though we were there for pizza, shortly after we were seated our server brought us a basket of assorted breads, which they informed us are baked daily on the premises. Randy chose a chiabatta bun and I opted for a slice of walnut bread. After smearing the bread with a pad of butter, I was quite pleased with my choice, and had that basket included a wheel of brie and some olives I could have easily called it dinner and left quite satisfied.

A few days later as I once again leafed through the Italian Baker by Carol Fields I happened to come across a recipe for Walnut Bread, and with the incredible slice I'd had at Pizza e Pazzi still fresh on my mind there was no doubt I would give this recipe a try.

I was quite happy that the recipe was for a straight dough method which meant I could get started right away.  The only extra step in this recipe was to toast the walnuts lightly. I was so happy that I didn't have to rub the skins off the walnuts, a step I loathe because as much as I rub I rarely get enough skins off.

The walnuts were added to the dough while it was mixing in the KitchenAid as opposed to adding the nuts by hand after the dough has been kneaded for awhile which made the whole process very easy.

After one rise I shaped it into a long log and joined the ends to form a ring.

After about 50 minutes in the oven you are rewarded with a very large ring worthy of oohs and aahs.

The difference between this bread and the bread I had at Pizza e Pazzi was that this bread's crumb was much darker as if it had been made with whole wheat flour. The darker crumb, however, comes entirely from the ground walnuts. And as far as taste I'd almost say that this one was better. It was especially good on its own with some butter. In her introduction Carol Fields wrote that Italians like eating this bread with soft fresh cheese but I thought it would also make great chicken sandwiches as well. With a ring as large as this one was I was able to have my fill and store some in the freezer. I highly recommend this bread and if you like nuts in your breads you'll go crazy for this one.

Pane di Noci - Walnut Bread

2 cups (200 grams) walnut pieces, plus 4 to 6 perfect halves for the ring mold.
2-1/2 tsp. active dry yeast (I used instant)
1/4 cup honey
1-1/3 cups warm water
2 tbsp. olive oil
3-3/4 cups (500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. salt

Toast the walnuts on a baking sheet in a 400 F. oven for 10 minutes.  Chop the walnuts to coarse crumbs with a sharp knife or in a food processor fitted with the steel blade.

Stir the yeast and honey into the water in a mixer bowl; let stand until foamy, abut 10 minutes.  Stir in the oil with the paddle. Add the flour, salt and walnuts and mix until the dough come together. Change to the dough hook and knead until soft, moist, and fairly dense. 4 to 5 minutes.  Knead briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface.

First Rise - Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 -1/4 hours.

Shaping and Second Rise - Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Without punching it down or kneading it, shape in into a log and join the ends to make a ring.  Your may place the ring in an oiled ring mold with 4 to 6 walnut halves set in the bottom, so that when the bread is baked and turned out of the mold the nuts are on the top. The dough can also be baked in a free-form ring or round loaf. Place the free-form loaf on a floured peel or oiled baking sheet. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled about 1 hour.

Baking- Heat the oven to 400 F. If you are using a baking stone, turn the oven on 30 minutes before baking and sprinkle the stone with cornmeal just before sliding the loaf onto it. (I used parchment paper on a cookie sheet). Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 F.and bake 40 minutes longer. If you are baking the bread in a ring mold, bake the loaf out of the pan on a baking sheet or stone for the last 10 minutes to brown the bottom and sides. Cook completely on a rack.


Thursday, April 5, 2012


I just had to post these nut filled, melt in your mouth morsels that I learned to make from my mother-in-law and were always made for Easter. The original recipe used fresh yeast in the pastry which was totally foreign and a bit intimidating to me at the time some thirty plus years ago.

This recipe which I found later does not use yeast but is almost identical in taste and produces the most flakiest pastry ever. I did alter the recipe slightly by using butter instead of margarine which made all the difference in the world. As the commercial goes, "butter is better". On Easter morning we would devour these addictive cookies with cups of coffee.

I wish you all a very Happy Easter.



4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups salted butter
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 cup sour cream


4 cups walnuts, ground
1 cup sugar
½ cup milk
1 tbsp. almond extract

Cut butter into flour until crumbly. Add egg yolks and sour cream and knead into a smooth dough. If the dough is very sticky knead in a little flour. Divide the dough into thirds. Take one portion of the dough and cover the rest with plastic wrap. Roll the dough out quite thin on a floured surface into a rectangle. To ensure that the dough does not stick to the counter lift the dough from time to time while rolling out and sprinkle the counter with flour. With a sharp knife cut the dough into 2-inch squares. Mix filling ingredients together and place 1 teaspoonful onto each square. Roll from one corner to form a crescent. Repeat with remaining dough. Place on ungreased cookie sheets close together and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and cool on racks for a few minutes then roll each cookie in icing sugar.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Spaccatini - Little Cleft Rolls

These little rolls from The Italian Baker by Carol Fields are probably my new favourite roll. At first I was wondering why these rolls from Lugano which is actually in Switzerland were featured in The Italian Baker, but upon further investigation I learned that this scenic and picturesque town on Lake Lugano on the Italian border also known as the "Monte Carlo of Switzerland" is the largest Italian speaking city outside of Italy. So having these fabulous rolls in the Italian Baker makes perfect sense.

I was attracted to the recipe for how easy it was to make. The night before I prepare a biga; a little flour, water and yeast mixed together and allowed to sit in a cool room overnight where it triples in volume.

In the morning I add this biga to more flour, yeast, water and salt and knead it to a smooth dough and set it in a greased bowl to rise.

In about a hour and a half the dough has come up to the top of the bowl and is ready for shaping. By the way may I mention here that this is one of the most velvety doughs I have ever worked with, to say that it feels like a baby's behind wouldn't be far off.

The recipe makes 16 rolls; I divided the dough into quarters then each quarter was divided into 4 pieces each weighing 55 grams.

The most time consuming part of making these little rolls is depressing a small dowel into each one to form a cleft. Now I suppose if you wanted to elimate this step, say because you were in a hurry, and just let the rolls rise and score with a knife no one would be the wiser. However if you did this just call them something else. I looked up the word spaccatini and found nothing, but the word "spaccare" is the verb for "to break or to split" so I am guessing that the little split in these rolls is where they got their name.

These are then placed top side down on a floured surface, covered with a towel or in my case plastic wrap and allowed to rise for about an hour or until they are doubled. I forgot to take a picture of the rolls on the parchment upside down and also of the rolls turned back cleft side up where I reemphasized the cleft by scoring the crease with a sharp knife.

They are baked in a 425 degree oven for about twenty minutes and when they are done you are rewarded with these crusty rolls with a lovely slightly chewy crumb. So whether you are Swiss or Italian I can't imagine that you would turn these down.


Spaccatini – Little Cleft Rolls


Makes 2-1/3 cups (about 585 grams)
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon water, room temperature
2-1/2 cups (about 350grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
Stir the yeast into the warm water and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining water and then the flour, 1 cup at a time.
Mix with a wooden spoon for 3 to 4 minutes or mix with the paddle attachment of the mixer at low speed for 2 minutes.
Remove to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at a cool room temperature for 6 to 24 hours. The starter will triple in volume and still be wet and sticky when ready. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. When needed scoop out desired amount.


¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
2 cups (500 grams) Biga
About 2 cups (250 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
Stir the yeast into the water in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the starter and mix with the paddle until the starter is broken up. Add the flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at low speed 2 minutes, then at medium speed 1 minute. If you want, finish kneading briefly by hand on a floured surface; you will probably need 1 to 2 tablespoons additional flour.
First Rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
Shaping and Second Rise. Cut the dough into 16 pieces, each about the size of a lemon. Shape each piece into a ball on a floured surface; then, with the edge of your hand, a dowel, or the floured handle of a wooden spoon make a deep indentation down the center of each ball. Place the rolls cleft side down, on a well-floured surface. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Baking. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Just before baking, turn each roll over and reemphasize the cleft. Place the rolls, cleft side up, on lightly oiled or parachment-lined baking sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, spraying 3 times with water in the first 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Banana Nut Bread

It had been such a long time since I'd made this banana bread, but finally I had enough bananas at their peak to whip one up. You see, I don't usually buy a whole lot of bananas but when I do I buy enough to hopefully have some left over to make this quick bread. But then one of two things can happen that changes my plans: for one, all the bananas are eaten or two, I don't have time to bake and the bananas go from being too ripe to eat to overly ripe and ready for the garbage bin. But this time the timing was right - I had three fragrant bananas that I could smell from another room and perfect for putting into this bread.

I have had this recipe for such a long time that I don't remember where it came from but it is easy and a very good one and I wanted to share it.

I begin by toasting some walnuts in a moderate oven for about eight minutes. This prevents them from turning blue while baking in the bread.

Meanwhile I mash the bananas in a bowl with a potato masher.

In another bowl I beat the oil and sugar together and then add the eggs, and vanilla and mashed bananas and beat vigourously until the batter is well combined.

Instead of adding the walnuts at the end, I decided to add the nuts to the flour mixture to prevent over beating which would make the bread tough. It turned out that this wasn't such a good idea. You see the flour got into the small crevices in the walnuts and after it was baked and sliced you could see tiny bits of flour in the nuts. The bread was still very good but not esthetically pleasing if I were to serve it at a fancy afternoon tea party. But since I wasn't having a fancy schmancy tea it really didn't matter. However, next time instead of being clever I will just follow the recipe.

Anyway after I added the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients I poured the batter into a 9 x 5 inch bread pan and baked it for about one hour.

When it was a deep golden brown I removed it from the oven and inserted a wooden skewer into the bread to make sure it was done.

This banana bread is moist and fragrant from the bananas with a nice crunch from the walnuts. Over the years I have made many different recipes of banana bread but I always come back to this one and with good reason.

Banana Nut Bread

½ cup cooking oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
3 tbsp. milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat oil and sugar together, Add eggs and banana pulp and beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients, milk, and vanilla. Mix well and stir in nuts. Pour into greased and floured loaf pan (9” x 5” x3”). Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack and store overnight before cutting.